Like the rest of the film industry, Imax EVP Megan Colligan had a difficult time navigating the existential challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in a conversation with TheWrap ahead of Thursday’s earnings, she said there was a silver lining: it forced everyone to stop debating over cinema’s future and work together.
At CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Colligan observed how pre-pandemic editions of the movie theater trade show featured talking points and arguments from both exhibitors and studios that demonstrated how different sides of Hollywood were in “entrenched positions” on what the future of movie releasing should look like. But when movie theaters reopened last year, there was a major change.
“I think last year was a good opportunity for all the hypothetical conversations that dogged the industry about what we should try finally ended and everyone actually got to try them,” Colligan said, referring to experiments like Warner Bros.’ year-long simultaneous release in theaters and on HBO Max and Disney’s release of “Black Widow” as an at-home premium offering on Disney+.
“Everybody got to live out whatever experiment they ever wanted to try…and a lot of people were disavowed of the truth they believe to be real,” Colligan continued. “I think people got less entrenched in their beliefs…and I think that makes us all more collaborative and more creative and puts the industry in a healthier place.”
As an example, Colligan pointed to how studios that did release films simultaneously in theaters and on streaming last year made deals with theater chains giving cinemas a larger share of ticket sale revenue as compensation for the lost revenue from interested audiences who saw those new releases at home.
Warner Bros. made such deals with several major chains last year along with agreements to return to 45-day theatrical windows in 2022, preserving a healthy partnership with exhibitors while allowing them to move forward with an experiment that drew eyes to HBO Max and helped provide stability in an uncertain pandemic box office.
Some of the rhetoric spoken onstage at CinemaCon has also changed. While in past years attendees would fiercely defend the 90-day theatrical window, NATO CEO John Fithian walked a finer line this week, passionately defending the importance of windowing to the bottom line and declaring day-and-date releasing “dead as a serious business model” while also acknowledging that the nature of such windows is changing — or in other words, shortening — as the industry moves out of the pandemic.
“Exhibitors and distributors are continuing to work together to create evolving periods of theatrical exclusivity that maximize movies’ theatrical revenue and increase the perceived value to consumers when they go to exclusive home streaming,” he said. “Even as they evolve, it remains the case that theatrical windows grow our entire industry.”